Recently (um...the last couple days), I've been working on a new "campaign setting" project for B/X (see yesterday's post). Consequently, I started fooling around with all sorts of ideas for tweaking the standard B/X system in order to get something that's not only "setting appropriate" but that helps "fix" things I dislike about B/X. After coming up with several "out-o-the-box" changes and crunching numbers I've decided to discard pretty much ALL of these "great ideas." Turns out B/X really is plenty swell.
I should really remember to read my own blog posts.
Even so, very minor tweaks still in order. Maximum HPs at first level, for example (you don't want to know my "alternate system")...just need to increase the survivability a tad. Tempted to allow characters to begin at levels higher than 1st, even (we've seen this before: 2nd level for Dark Sun characters, and Gygax used a 3rd level starting point for his house rules), but I'm pretty sure I'm going to hold true to the standard.
Then there's Ye Old Battle Axe.
Fuzzy Skinner's been writing recently about the gradual conversion of his B/X campaign to 2nd edition AD&D, something I won't fault him for (even if AD&D2 isn't my cup of tea, I can honestly see the appeal...plus, "ramping up" complexity to one's game over time is valid and oft-taken tactic to keep one's campaign fresh). Of course, this kind of thing does raise challenges to evolving DM...his most recent post found him trying to reconcile the simple beauty of uniform damage with the variable complexity found in an Advanced edition of the game.
[yes, I offered him my two cents and a suggestion for how to handle it. Ever helpful, that's me]
Fuzzy found himself running up against a philosophy of realism (AD&D) that was at odds with the practicality of gameplay (B/X) to which he'd become accustomed. In the past, I (like Fuzzy) have tried to synthesize these two issues by finding "realistic" justifications that allowed me to keep my practical rules. But I'm starting to get to a point where I don't feel the need to justify myself...maybe because I've been reading thing's like The Dungeon's Front Door, I've started to come to the conclusion that a game only needs to be justified so much. If you spend too much time on it, it can become detrimental to the game.
Which can lead to a bad session of gaming.
Still, it's good to have a ready answer at hand for when one's player asks a question like, ''Why do daggers inflict the same amount of damage as a two-handed sword?" Some answer is better than no answer (I mean, your players are presumably literate and intelligent and thoughtful and are asking out of genuine curiosity regarding something that doesn't jibe with their world view...I don't think they're trying to bust your balls). Best to give some impression that you've at least thought about the rule so that the session can move back into the realm of play, rather than design/theory discussion.
Having said that, AND having tried on this new "service to the player" philosophy that is starting to make the rounds among thoughtful folks, I've come to a startling decision: I've decided to go back to the OPTIONAL Variable Weapon Damage concept (see table on page B27 of Moldvay, X25 of Cook/Marsh).
'JB! Say it ain't so!' Oh, but it IS so, Gentle Reader. And while I'd consider restricting damage bonuses (from STR) based on weapon type, I'm not going to do so. First off, it would add extra complication to the ease of the system that is; secondly, it would undermine my philosophical justification for the inclusion of the heroic STR bonuses of B/X.
[what do I mean by that? Remember that an attack roll is not a single strike, but an attempt to do damage over the course of the ten second round. A successful attack roll means you were able to inflict damage, and the damage roll gives you an idea of how that damage was accomplished based on how much damage was inflicted. Extra STR, valuable in melee, can represent all sorts of additional unarmed strikes or tactical maneuvering/grappling that allows for the infliction of additional damage. It does NOT mean a dude with an 18 strength is delivering a limb-amputating blow with his dagger]
As for why certain classes aren't allowed certain weapons (the thing that led to my previously posted...later published...idea about variable weapon damage by class)...well, that's a matter of setting detail. A magic-user's limitations might be tied to oaths, or taboos, or magnetic interference, or personal pride (necessary to have belief in self for magic to work), or whatever. It's just setting "color," easily laid out in a briefing of the particular game world.
|Here comes the pain.|
The battle axe is a two-handed weapon...with all the inherent B/X limitations (no shield, lose initiative)...and yet only inflicts D8 damage, compared to other two-handed weapons (the pole arm and two-handed sword) which do D10. Considering the normal sword does D8 damage and is one-handed (thus possessing zero limitations), why would anyone choose a battle axe over a sword?
The stock answer I receive is: this is reflected in the cost (battle axes are 7gp; swords are 10gp). Okay, but a pole arm is 7gp, too, has the same limitations as a battle axe, but does D10 damage.
Well, the pole arm is three times as heavy (15# compared to 5#) is the follow-up rebuttal. But then,the two-handed sword is the same weight as a pole arm, has exactly the same specifications and is more than TWICE as expensive! You've fixed the problem with the battle axe (I guess...you can carry three for every one pole-arm), but now you're left wondering who'd ever purchase a zwiehander?
Still, forget all that...my concern is the battle axe because (as I've written many times) I LOVE me some battle axe. I love the weapon, its history, its concept; heck, I even dig the name...just rolls off the tongue. How can I make it a viable option for an adventurer, without turning it into a 7gp vorpal sword (i.e. something everyone wants to purchase). AND (equally important) without messing too much with the B/X rules as written. Because, in all honesty, I personally think that the battle axe IS scaled correctly, both price-wise and damage-wise, with the other weapons on the B/X list.
Here's what I came up with:
Can-Opener: a character wielding a battle axe two-handed receives a +1 bonus to the attack roll.
Versatile: a fighter (not a dwarf, elf, halfling, or thief) with a STR of 16 may wield a battle axe with one-hand, thus allowing the use of a shield; however, when doing so the battle axe only does D6 damage.
Wear & Tear: non-magical weapons break on any miss if the attack roll before modification is a 1 (swords only) or 1-2 (all other weapons).
I think that should about do it.
[I actually really like the look of these...in B/X the strongest enchanted "axe" is +2, and so the can-opener bonus brings the hit bonus up to the maximum of other melee weapons. The wear & tear is a pretty standard "weapon break" rule and helps to distinguish pole arms from two-handed swords. I could certainly live with this in a campaign that included variable weapon damage]